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5 Things You Didn't Know About Josephine Baker

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Singer and dancer Josephine Baker—the subject of today's Google Doodle—was probably the closest thing the Jazz Age had to a mega-star. The African American diva, who was known as "La Baker" in her adopted France, was a worldwide celebrity and devoted civil rights activist who first rose to fame by dancing in a "skirt" of artificial bananas and very little else. While Baker's activism and military service were commendable, they often took a back seat in the contemporary media to her bizarre personal life. Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about Josephine Baker, who was born on this day in 1906.

1. SHE WAS A SPY.

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When World War II rocked her adopted France, Baker didn't simply move to a more peaceful country. Instead, she stuck around and did her part for the war effort. Since she had initially publicly supported Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, the Axis powers mistakenly thought she was "one of them," and Baker took full advantage of this misconception.

In fact, her fame made her the perfect spy. When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her. What customs officials never realized, though, was that a lot of this music actually had secret messages written on it in invisible ink. Fawning immigration officials never thought to take too close a look at the diva's luggage, so she could sneak all sorts of things in and out of countries. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear.

This invaluable intelligence work eventually helped Baker rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.

2. A DUEL WAS FOUGHT IN HER NAME.

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Lots of stars have devoted fans, but how many would be willing to fight a duel for their favorite diva? In 1928, a Hungarian cavalry officer and an Italian count did just that in Budapest. According to a contemporary account from TIME Magazine, "the ogling and attentions of Hungarian Cavalry Captain Andrew Czlovoydi became too fervently gallant to be stomached by La Baker's manager, Count Pepito di Albertini." Rather than just ask Czlovoydi to knock it off, the Count took the reasonable step of challenging the soldier to a sword-fighting duel.

Fittingly, the two duelers met in a cemetery for their showdown while Baker cheered on the Count from a perch atop a tombstone. According to TIME, the two men battled with swords for a solid 10 minutes before the Count took a light blow to the shoulder. At that point, Baker intervened and forced the two men to set aside their differences.

3. SHE ADOPTED A DOZEN CHILDREN.

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Celebrities adopting children from underprivileged backgrounds may be old news at this point, but what Baker did in the 1950s is still shocking and fascinating. In an effort to combat racism and provide an example for the rest of the world to follow, Baker started adopting orphans from all corners of the world.

Baker started by adopting two Japanese children, and kept going until she had assembled a family of 12 children from a variety of countries and ethnicities; Baker dubbed them "the Rainbow Tribe." The Baker family lived in a chateau in southwestern France, which the star turned into a sort of resort/theme park with a multicultural theme, but it didn't catch on quite as well as Epcot did. By 1968, the operation was hemorrhaging money, and Baker's creditors had to sell the mansion out from under her.

4. SHE AND GRACE KELLY WERE CLOSE FRIENDS.

Although Baker lived and worked in France, she still made frequent touring trips back to the United States. During one 1951 visit to New York, Baker found herself at the Stork Club at the same time as rising actress Grace Kelly. When the racist staff refused to wait on Baker, Kelly, who was dining with a large party of her own, flew into a rage and walked out of the club in support of Baker.

From that moment on, Kelly and Baker were close friends. In fact, when the Rainbow Tribe's chateau was on the rocks financially, Kelly—who by that time had become Princess Grace of Monaco—tried to bail Baker out with her creditors. When Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly didn't abandon her friend. Instead, she arranged for the singer to have a villa in Monaco.

5. BAKER HAD QUITE THE MENAGERIE.

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Baker was just as big on collecting animals as she was about acquiring children. When a club owner gave her a pet cheetah named Chiquita to use as part of her dance show, Baker was delighted. In fact, she liked Chiquita so much that the cat stayed with her long after the act ended; eventually the cheetah traveled the world with Baker, always riding in her car and sleeping in her bed.

That wasn't Baker's only pet, though. She had a goat named Toutoute who lived in her dressing room at her nightclub, and at the same club she had a pet pig named Albert. Albert was no ordinary pig. Not only did he live in the club's kitchen and munch on food scraps, but Baker also liked to gussy him up with fancy perfumes. At one point Albert got so hefty from living this high life that he couldn't make it out of the kitchen's door any longer, so the door's frame had to be broken down.

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Revisit Your Teen Years With Vintage Sweet Valley High Editions
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Always Fits

The '80s and '90s were a special time to be a reading-obsessed child. Young adult series like The Baby Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High were in their prime (and spawning plenty of spinoffs and blatant knockoffs), with numerous books a year—Sweet Valley High creator Francine Pascal published 11 books in her series in 1984 alone.

You can't find original Sweet Valley High books on the shelves anymore (unless you want to read the tweaked re-release versions published in 2008), but fans of Jessica and Elizabeth no longer have to trawl eBay looking for nostalgic editions of their favorite installments of the series. Always Fits, a website that sells gifts it describes as “nostalgic, feminine, feminist and wonderful,” has tracked down as many vintage teen series from the '80s and '90s as it can, including a number of Sweet Valley High books.

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The collection of books was sourced by the Always Fits team from vintage shops and thrift stores, and covers editions released between 1983 and 1994 (the series ran until 2003). While you can’t get a shiny new copy of books like Double Love, you can pretend that the slightly worn editions have been sitting on the bookshelf of your childhood bedroom all along.

Each of the Sweet Valley High books comes with an enamel pin inspired by the cover for one of the series's classic titles, Secrets. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose which installment you want—you’ll have to content yourself with a mystery pick, meaning that you may get In Love Again instead of Two-Boy Weekend. Hopefully you’re not trying to fill in that one hole from your childhood collection. (You may not be able to get Kidnapped by the Cult!, but it appears that Crash Landing!, with its amazingly ridiculous paralysis storyline, is available.)

The Sweet Valley High book-and-pin set is $18, or you can get a three-pack of random '80s books for the same price.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Love Connection
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Between September 19, 1983 and July 1, 1994, Chuck Woolery—who had been the original host of Wheel of Fortune back in 1975—hosted the syndicated, technologically advanced dating show Love Connection. (The show was briefly revived in 1998-1999, with Pat Bullard as host.) The premise featured either a single man or single woman who would watch audition tapes of three potential mates discussing what they look for in a significant other, and then pick one for a date. The producers would foot the bill, shelling out $75 for the blind date, which wasn’t taped. The one rule was that between the end of the date and when the couple appeared on the show together, they were not allowed to communicate—so as not to spoil the next phase.

A couple of weeks after the date, the guest would sit with Woolery in front of a studio audience and tell everybody about the date. The audience would vote on the three contestants, and if the audience agreed with the guest’s choice, Love Connection would offer to pay for a second date.

The show became known for its candor: Couples would sometimes go into explicit detail about their dates or even insult one another’s looks. Sometimes the dates were successful enough to lead to marriage and babies, and the show was so popular that by 1992, the video library had accrued more than 30,000 tapes “of people spilling their guts in five-minutes snippets.”

In 2017, Fox rebooted Love Connection with Andy Cohen at the helm; the second season started airing in May. But here are a few things you might not have known about the dating series that started it all.

1. AN AD FOR A VIDEO DATING SERVICE INSPIRED THE SHOW.

According to a 1986 People Magazine article, the idea for Love Connection came about when creator Eric Lieber spied an ad for a video dating service and wanted to cash in on the “countless desperate singles out there,” as the article states. “Everyone thinks of himself as a great judge of character and likes to put in two cents,” Lieber said. “There’s a little yenta in all of us.”

2. CONTESTANTS WERE GIVEN SOMETHING CALLED A PALIO SCORE.

Staff members would interview potential contestants and rate them on a PALIO score, which stands for personality, appearance, lifestyle, intelligence, and occupation. Depending on the results, the staff would rank the potential guests as either selectors or selectees.

3. IN 1987, THE FIRST OF MANY LOVE CONNECTION BABIES WAS BORN.

John Schultz and Kathleen Van Diggelen met on a Love Connection date, which didn’t end up airing. “They said, ‘John, she’s so flat, if you can’t rip her up on the set, we can’t use you,’” he told People in 1988. “I said, ‘I can’t do that.’” However, they got married on an episode of Hollywood Squares. As the article stated, “Their son, Zachary, became the first baby born to a Love Connection-mated couple.”

4. IT LED TO OTHER DATING SHOWS, LIKE THE BACHELOR.

Mike Fleiss not only created The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, but he’s also responsible for reviving Love Connection. “I always had a soft spot for that show,” Fleiss told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. He said he was friends with Lieber and that the show inspired him to “venture into the romance TV space.” “I remember it being simple and effective,” he said about the original Love Connection. “And I remember wanting to find out what happened on those dates, the he said-she said of it all. It was intriguing.”

5. A FUTURE ACTOR FROM THE SOPRANOS WAS A CONTESTANT.

Lou Martini Jr., then known as Louis Azzara, became a contestant on the show during the late 1980s. He and his date, Angela, hit it off so well that they couldn’t keep their hands off one another during the show. Martini famously talked about her “private parts,” and she referred to him as “the man of my dreams.” The relationship didn’t last long, though. “I had just moved to LA and was not ready to commit to anything long-term," Martini commented under the YouTube clip. "The show was pushing me to ask her to marry me on the show!" If Martini looks familiar it’s because he went on to play Anthony Infante, Johnny Sack’s brother-in-law, on four episodes of season six of The Sopranos.

6. BEFORE THE SHOW WENT OFF THE AIR, A LOT OF CONTESTANTS GOT MARRIED.

During the same Entertainment Weekly interview, the magazine asked Woolery what the show’s “love stats” were, and he responded with 29 marriages, eight engagements, and 15 children, which wasn’t bad considering 2120 episodes had aired during its entire run. “When you think that it’s someone in our office putting people together through questionnaires and tapes, it’s incredible that one couple got married, much less 29,” he said.

7. CHUCK WOOLERY WAS AGAINST FEATURING SAME SEX COUPLES.

In a 1993 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the interviewer asked him “Would you ever have gay couples on Love Connection?” Woolery said no. “You think it would work if a guy sat down and I said, ‘Well, so where did you meet and so and so?’ then I get to the end of the date and say, ‘Did you kiss?’ Give me a break,” he said. “Do you think America by and large is gonna identify with that? I don’t think that works at all.” What a difference a quarter-century makes. Andy Cohen, who is openly gay, asked Fox if it would be okay to feature gay singles on the new edition of Love Connection. Fox immediately agreed.

8. ERIC LIEBER LIKED THE SHOW’S “HONEST EMOTIONS.”

When asked about the show's winning formula, Lieber once said: “The show succeeds because we believe in honest emotions. And, admit it—we’re all a little voyeuristic and enjoy peeking into someone else’s life.”

9. IN LIVING COLOR DID A HILARIOUS PARODY OF THE SHOW.

In the first sketch during In Living Color's pilot—which aired April 15, 1990—Jim Carrey played Woolery in a Love Connection parody. Robin Givens (played by Kim Coles) went on a date with Mike Tyson (Keenan Ivory Wayans) and ended up marrying him during the date. (As we know from history, the real-life marriage didn’t go so well.) The audience had to vote for three men: Tyson, John Kennedy Jr., and, um, Donald Trump. Tyson won with 41 percent of the vote and Trump came in second with 34 percent.

10. A PSYCHOLOGIST THOUGHT THE SHOW HAD A “MAGICAL HOPEFULNESS” QUALITY.

In 1986, People Magazine interviewed psychologist and teacher Dr. Richard Buck about why people were attracted to Love Connection. “Combine the fantasy of finding the perfect person with the instant gratification of being on TV, and the two are a powerful lure,” he said. “There’s a magical hopefulness to the show.”

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